Fear and Sorrow: Tenebraus Western Trail
The twin moons of Tarro were high in the night sky, shimmering behind the wispy clouds littered across the horizon. The western trail through Tenebraus Forest was difficult for most to manage but Gabriel had made the trip dozens of times in the past and the route was burned into his memory. He knew the most common places that beasts would gather so he learned ways to avoid them due to the importance of his trips into Udine.
The only healers and herbalists in his home village of Calmia were not skilled enough to create the potions required to treat his sister. Annara was afflicted with a curse that weakened her immune system from birth. She’d almost died so many times as a baby that their mother and father searched everywhere for something that could help her and only one chemist in the city of Udine had the skills necessary.
Even before their parents passed, Gabriel would make the two-day trip to Udine alone to pick up Annara’s medicine. Their father was the head of the village guard, and their mother ran the only smithy outside of Udine. When they died the village almost collapsed and it fell to Gabriel to return to the smithy and help organize the guards to ensure their safety.
Gabriel’s only time to himself and away from the responsibilities of the village where when he made the trip for Annara’s medicine. This month, however, he was running late. He had been caught up in his work at the forge and hadn’t left for Udine until the afternoon, and while over the years he’d been able to reduce the trip to less than a day’s travel with it already being nighttime more dangerous creatures were likely to be around.
He’d been sprinting through the woods for the last hour before he finally reached a small clearing indicating he was less than a half hour to the village.
“I made good time I guess,” Gabriel stopped and looked up at the moons overhead before dropping his pack to the ground. “I’m sure Annara will be all right, I was only a few hours later than planned. She’ll probably be more upset that I didn’t stay in Udine overnight though.”
Gabriel sighed and wiped the sweat from his forehead with an old cloth before shoving it into the side of his large pack. He hefted the bag over one shoulder and continued down the trail toward home at a slower pace than before.
The forest was eerily quiet tonight, even the animals seemed to be hiding from something. The only sound that echoed through the trees was Gabriel’s own footfalls on the packed dirt path. It felt like he’d been walking for hours but no time had passed, and the woods had yet to break into the village gates and appeared to be getting denser.
A piercing scream echoed from behind Gabriel, in an instant, he dropped his pack and unsheathed his sword. Another scream rang out as he began sprinting back up the path, his heart pounding in his chest. He started wracking his memory for what type of beast he may be running towards, but the options were almost limitless causing a pit to form in his stomach.
Gabriel slowed as he found himself on the edge of a clearing, the same one he’d left earlier. Something powerful was warping either his mind or the shape of reality around him. As he took a deep breath to steady his nerves the heavy metallic smell of blood flooded his senses causing the fear to well up inside him as he moved slightly closer to the clearing.
Gabriel saw a ruined wagon in the center of the clearing, one of the horses pulling the wagon was eviscerated and the other was nowhere to be seen. Gabriel noticed a dark figure crouched over a body beside the wagon before instinctively taking a step backward. He knew there was no way that he stood a chance against a creature like this, the only hope he had was to reach the village and get the guard’s assistance.
As his boot fell a small branch snapped under the pressure causing Gabriel’s heart to sink as the beast shivered and stood upright before turning toward Gabriel. The creature looked up at him with eyes that shone bright red in the pale light of the twin moons. He could make out the silhouette of stiff short wings on the creature’s back and horns atop its head. Gabriel tightened his hand around the hilt of his sword and grit his teeth. He’d never seen anything like this in the forest before.
He heard a whimper and saw the arm of the person beneath the beast move weakly before the monster’s tail impaled them and their movement stopped entirely.
“What are you?” Gabriel yelled at the creature, his voice shaking with anger and fear.
The creature hissed and took a step towards Gabriel who took a step forward as well with his sword at the ready. The creature stopped and cocked its head to the side as if studying Gabriel before a twisted smile appeared on its face.
“I am fear, I am sorrow. I am the darkness, and this realm now belongs to me.” The creature’s voice was high-pitched and felt like nails on a chalkboard causing shivers to rush down Gabriel’s spine. “Meager creatures like you do not deserve the essence this realm has to offer.”
“Why have you done this?” Gabriel pointed the tip of his sword at the lifeless body beside the ruined wagon. “You have no right!”
“I have every right,” the creature snapped as it took a step toward Gabriel, and he felt his stomach climb up his throat. “Every being in this realm belongs to me, your god has abandoned you and you have no hope.”
Even as the fear rose in Gabriel, he managed to keep his arms steady, and his blade firmly pointed at the beast. From the corner of his eye, he noticed movement near the ruined wagon. A small hand forced its way through the rubble causing Gabriel to grip the hilt of his sword tighter, there was still someone alive.
“Gods or not,” Gabriel quickly glanced between the beast and the wagon as the creature continued walking toward him, hoping the child wouldn’t make enough noise to get the beast’s attention. “We will not just roll over for you, humans are strong and willful creatures even if you’ve never encountered us before.”
“Humans are not new to me,” the beast snarled as it continued approaching him. “I have slain millions, and you are no different from them.”
“Maybe not,” Gabriel replied as the beast stopped two sword lengths from him. “Not every human has something worth fighting and dying for.”
The beast’s mouth opened letting out a deep laugh. “I would reassure you and say your sister Annara will join you soon, but I have much better plans for her.”
The shock overwhelmed Gabriel, there was no way this beast could know him or his family. As he wracked his brain the beast raised its hand summoning a blade similar to Gabriel’s.
“I will grant you a warrior’s death, Gabriel.” The sword began to fall before Gabriel finally broke from his stupor deflecting the blow with his sword and stepping to the side.
“You won’t get into my mind beast,” Gabriel called as he slashed toward the beast who leaped backward avoiding his blade with ease.
In an instant, Gabriel felt an overwhelming pressure bearing down on his body causing his sword to lower as sweat began pouring off his brow. It felt like all hope was being washed away from him as the despair set in. He took a deep breath briefly closing his eyes and imagining Annara’s worried face as the beast leaped towards him slashing at his neck.
Gabriel opened his eyes as he raised his sword blocking the full-force swing from the beast. The blow knocked him back into a nearby tree, using the strength he had left he forced himself to stay upright raising his blade again.
“You are interesting for a human,” the beast said as it began walking toward him once more. “Your faith and hope are the only things that make you who you are. But what if that hope was taken from you?”
The beast stopped before Gabriel raised his sword high above the creature’s head. As Gabriel raised his sword to defend himself a broken board fell beside the wagon. The child hiding in the rubble came in full view as they tried to stand up sobbing softly. The beast stopped its swing in an instant as flames sprang in the shape of a smile across its face.
The child began crying as the beast moved with extreme speed lodging its sword in Gabriel’s abdomen and leaping backward toward the wagon. “Now I shall take another of my possessions as you die in pain, sorrow, and the knowledge that Annara will be next.”
Gabriel grasped the blade sticking from his stomach as the beast moved its way closer and closer to the crying child. As the beast reached down and snatched the balling child by the throat and lifted it upwards Gabriel lunged lodging his sword deep in the creature’s arm.
The creature howled as the child fell to the ground and clambered toward the ruined wagon. In that brief moment, Gabriel believed he had a chance before the howl turned to a deep laugh and the beast wrapped its fingers around his sword.
“In another realm,” the creature smiled broadly as it spoke. “You could have been something important. But here, you are nothing more than my plaything.”
With a twist, of its wrist, Gabriel’s sword snapped in two and he felt a sharp pain permeate from his back. His fingers no longer had the strength to grasp the hilt of his sword as it fell to the ground, as his gaze dropped, he saw the shine of a blade protruding from his chest.
“Blocking my attack intrigued me,” the creature said as Gabriel fell to his knees. “Now it’s time for a snack, I have a big night planned with Annara.”
The beast reached behind Gabriel picking up the stunned child who was dripping in Gabriel’s blood. “The young ones are so easy to control.”
Gabriel reached for what was left of his sword before the creature jumped into the air. Larger wings formed out of the short stubs on its back allowing it to stay in the air.
“Enjoy what little life you have left, Gabriel.” The beast called back to him as it began moving south, only the child’s screams could be heard as it disappeared into the dark of the night.
Gabriel was in disbelief as the blood drained from his body, “Annara.” Gabriel called her name as he forced himself up.
He began making his way down the path even as his consciousness began to fade away. The last thoughts he had before the screams echoed in the distance were of the beast’s promise for his sister.